Tiger Woods Must Be Considered Favorite Heading into 2013 U.S. Open

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IJune 12, 2013

ARDMORE, PA - JUNE 12: Tiger Woods of the United States hits a tee shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club on June 12, 2013 in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

A three-time U.S. Open champion, Tiger Woods enters Merion Golf Club this summer as the player to beat at the season's second major tournament.

With four tournament wins to his name heading into the 2013 U.S. Open, Tiger is rolling along, looking more and more like his old self. Had it not been for a controversial penalty in the second round of the Masters two months ago, perhaps Tiger would be gunning for his 16th major title this Father's Day weekend.

Ranked No. 1 in the world and sitting atop the PGA money list, Tiger has to be the hands-down favorite to conquer Merion this June.

It doesn't matter that Woods is coming off a forgettable performance at the Memorial Tournament earlier this month. His head and game are in the right place and you can bet he'll be locked in this week. 

Since 1999, Woods has recorded eight top-10 finishes at the U.S. Open, including seven top-five finishes. Although it's been five years since he last won this tournament, he was in the mix in 2009 as well as 2010 (finishing tied for sixth and fourth, respectively) and within reach last year before coming unglued over the final two rounds of the weekend to finish seven over and tied for 21st.

But Tiger wasn't on this type of roll last season entering the U.S. Open.

He has officially returned to his old dominant level in 2013, winning every other tournament and making the cut everywhere he goes. 

The pressure to break through at a major is certainly on for Tiger, but if he plays up to his potential—like he has for the majority of this season—there's no one else in the world who can derail him on his journey to win No. 15.

Prior to his dismal outing at the Memorial, Woods' game was firing on all cylinders.

His numbers are still awfully impressive, though. He's driving the ball decently, hitting greens more often and doing well to put away his putts in an average of 1.7 strokes, which ranks second behind Phil Mickelson on the PGA Tour.

As reported by USA Today's Steve DiMeglio, NBC analyst and 1973 U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller believes that the course plays to Tiger's strengths:

Anytime you can give Tiger a course that he doesn't need to use his driver, I think is to his advantage. I think when he won The Players Championship is very similar to what he's going to do at Merion. He just sort of gets it off the tee with less than a driver, and his iron game is terrific and the rest of his game is terrific.

Really the only weakness for Tiger is when he has to hit the driver, and if he doesn't have to hit the driver, I think he's tough to beat.

Miller makes a great point that cannot be ignored. A hot Tiger Woods and a course that doesn't require him to punish the ball off the tee is the formula for major success.

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